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Thread: Character Essay: Body, Mind and Spirit

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  1. #1
    ThessalyRose
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    Character Essay: Body, Mind and Spirit

    Hi guys! I recently read a book called “Looking for God in Harry Potter,” which is an excellent book about the symbolism in the Potterverse, and a must-read for fans who are also Christians.

    I wanted to see if I could start a discussion about an aspect of the book which might help some of you with your writing. You may have noticed that Harry, Ron and Hermione aren’t the only trio in the books, and you may have noticed some parallels between Harry’s gang and the Mauraders. I’m going to present to you an explanation for that which is a common literary device used in English-language literature.

    The basic concept is that there are three things that make up a whole person: Spirit, Mind and Body. Each has a different role, but they are all necessary to make a happy, functional whole. In Harry Potter and other works of literature, these aspects are represented by characters. I’ll give you some examples:

    Spirit – In this case, Spirit stands for heart or courage. Spirit characters include Harry, James Potter, Gryffindor, and Dumbledore. Outside the Potterverse, another Spirit character you might be familiar with is Luke Skywalker. The natural role of the Spirit is as the leader, but he is not complete without the other two – look how miserable Harry was without Ron in GoF, and what a terrible mistake he made in OotP when he didn’t listen to Hermione.

    Mind – Mind characters are pretty easy to spot. Hermione, Lupin, Ravenclaw, and Snape are Mind characters in the Potterverse. To return to my previous non-Potter example, Princess Leia is a Mind character. Mind characters are very smart and capable of things like compassion (S.P.E.W.), but they struggle with Faith (Hermione can’t seem to get along with Luna, who represents Faith in the series, and in OotP, Lupin defends Snape at Christmas but completely reverses his position at the end of the story) or Loyalty (It’s no coincidence that Dumbledore’s Army gets ratted out by a Ravenclaw).

    Body – In this case, Body means desire or passion. Body characters are good at loyalty and faith but bad at self-discipline. Body characters include Ron, Sirius, Hufflepuff and McGonagall. Han Solo is the Body character in Star Wars. Some people struggle to understand Ron’s role in the books, so this is how you have to look at it: as much as Harry struggles with self-doubt, it's Ron who always believes in him. Hagrid is another body character, and he practically lives on faith. But he occasionally slips up and tells a secret he wasn't supposed to, because he struggles with self-discipline.

    The way to use this analysis in your writing is to make sure you cover all three aspects when you’re putting together your cast of characters. I recently read a story about Remus, Sirius and Severus being forced to work together. At the end I was left with the feeling that they weren’t going to get very far, not because they didn’t get along – they did come to terms by the end of the story – but because they were two Mind characters and a Body, but no Spirit. They didn’t have a leader. That doesn’t mean you can’t base a story on those three characters, but you need to have one of them – probably either Remus or Severus – grow into a Spirit character.

    Now, for discussion: Two of the trios I mentioned above actually have fourth members: Wormtail and Slytherin. What do you think they represent? Do Harry, Ron and Hermione have a fourth cohort who falls into this category?

    It's interesting to look at McGonagall and Snape in these terms. I believe McGonagall is a reformed Body character. In other words, she has more or less mastered her passions and become a disciplined person (but you can tell she's a Body because sometimes her passions strain to get loose, as in the scenes with Umbridge). Does that suggest that Snape has mastered his lack of faith? Maybe "Why does Dumbledore believe in him?" is the wrong question; maybe we should ask, "What does Snape believe in?"

    What do you guys think?

  2. #2
    Seventh Year Ravenclaw
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    Quote Originally Posted by ThessalyRose
    The basic concept is that there are three things that make up a whole person: Spirit, Mind and Body. Each has a different role, but they are all necessary to make a happy, functional whole. In Harry Potter and other works of literature, these aspects are represented by characters. I’ll give you some examples:
    I first came across this theory in a Mugglenet editorial well over a year ago. I think it is fascinating. I also think the concept of the three part soul originated with Plato, if I am remembering correctly; I think it is from The Republic. So it is a very old concept - isn't is fascinating how it can still be so relevant today?
    Anyway, I agree with it all, and may have to check out that book because I find this sort of analysis fascinating!

    That doesn’t mean you can’t base a story on those three characters, but you need to have one of them – probably either Remus or Severus – grow into a Spirit character.
    I wonder if a character can grow that much? I suppose it would be possible for a character who is considered a Body character to grow into a Mind character, and then a Spirit character; but I don't think you could go the other way around, unless you actually wanted your character to completely de-evolve. Of course, each person carries a part of each within themselves, and acts on the appropriate impulses for any given situation they find themselves in. You could argue Ron stepped up to the plate and functioned as the Spirit character during the chess match of book one, or that Hermione functioned as the same when she organized the DA. But I do think each person has a bit more of one than the others; one's goal in life should be the ultimate balance between the three. If Harry has to face Voldemort truly alone, he will have to do just that.

    Now, for discussion: Two of the trios I mentioned above actually have fourth members: Wormtail and Slytherin. What do you think they represent? Do Harry, Ron and Hermione have a fourth cohort who falls into this category?
    After reading the editorial I mentioned on Mugglenet, I wrote my own editorial about this very topic. No, I don't think the Trio have that fourth person. I think the Maruaders were a trio - James, Sirius, and Remus - with a bit of extra baggage that threw off their balance. I'm not ripping on Peter here, but perhaps one of the reasons he turned to the dark side was that he didn't have a place in this trio; he was extra. Harry, Ron, and Hermione don't have that person because I think they are a more evolved version of the Maruaders. The Marauders tragic flaw was that there were four of them trying to fit into a three part soul; this more easily allowed for Peter's betrayal. Harry, Ron, and Hermione don't have that tragic flaw, they won't be betrayed, and that is why they will succeed.

    I can PM you or anyone else links if you want.

    When it comes to Snape, it might be interesting to look at him as a Mind character as part of a trio with Dumbledore and Voldemort. He is straddling the fence between them, after all. Dumbledore would be the Spirit character and Voldemort is the Body character. The question for book seven then becomes - will Snape evolve into Spirit or de-evolve into Body? I think the former, but there is still a lot more going on in his head than just a simple breakdown like this. It's really quite fascinating!

    As for applying it to fanfiction, that is a wonderful bit of advice! I think a lot of authors instinctively use it, particularly with canon characters; but I think applying it to other groups of characters or original characters would certainly give the work a depth that would resonate with readers, even if they didn't understand why.

    ~Gina

  3. #3
    Vorona
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    Despite being kindly poked to join this conversation, I feel I'm sadly out of my depth here. However, I think that ignoring/not trying to argue about the things I don't know, I can come up with other things that relate somehow... I hope.

    I have read this theory before, but I don't know any of the philosophical underpinnings, such as Plato.

    That said, I do know something about the whole animal - woman - man - saints - angels - God thing... which I do NOT agree with. *That* idea is that animals are the lowest, in terms of spirituality and morality, followed by women, and so on. So, I find it difficult to say that you evolve from body to mind, and then to spirit. I think all three are equally important and equally evolved. I think we need all three. If we were all spirit people, we'd have no new ideas and none of our bills would ever be paid.

    But your thoughts on Snape are really interesting. There are two other trios that feature Harry I've read about:

    Orphan/Half-Blood: Voldemort - Snape - Harry

    and

    Dumbledore's Men: Hagrid - Snape - Harry

    I think this latter one is really interesting, because there, you really do have a body person, a mind person, and a spirit person. Of course, it assumes that Snape is one of Dumbledore's men...

    I don't know that Voldemort is a body person, though. He seems more Mind or even Spirit to me. I think he has tremendous self-discipline, for example, and he's definitely a leader, and was so even more in his earlier days.

    I wish I had more to add, but I don't think I really understand this concept...

  4. #4
    ThessalyRose
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    I agree that it's not really an evolution from one kind of character to another. If that were so, then you'd see groups of spirit characters hanging around together as equals. But we don't have that; we have trios with one of each, where the trio isn't complete without all of its parts. Look how miserable Harry was when Ron was avoiding him in Goblet of Fire, and how much stress there was when Harry and Ron snubbed Hermione in PoA. The author of Looking for God says the important thing is that everybody understands their place and fulfills their role.

    For example, remember in OotP when Hermione tried to talk Harry out of going to the Ministry? She was right all along, wasn't she? And if Harry had listened to her, there would have been a happy ending. But Harry ignored her advice, even though she's the Mind character, and charged in anyway, with disastrous results.

    I have always pictured Dumbledore-Snape-McGonagall as a Spirit-Mind-Body trio, in which case Voldemort might be the Wormtail/Slytherin fourth character. But your other suggestions are interesting too. I don't think Voldemort-Snape-Harry is a valid trio, though, because they aren't trying to work together. Is Voldemort a mind character? I don't know. I'm more inclined to say that he isn't part of a trio. The point of having a trio is that balance is necessary for a healthy life, and Voldemort is the poster boy for being out of balance.

    Can a character grow from one type to another? Yes, I definitely think so. Hermione shows signs of growing into a Spirit character. Look how cowardly she was in PoA, and how brave she was in OotP and HBP. Ron has farther to go, but I hope we can agree that although he might become a Spirit character, given a little more self-confidence, he'd never become a Mind character.

    A couple other interesting things: In OotP, did you notice that Ron was defeated by the brains? That's because he's a Body. I don't think they would have hurt Hermione. Hermione has to watch out for time; in the Department of Mysteries, she was defeated in the Time room, and in PoA she was the one given the Time-Turner, which almost gave her a nervous breakdown. I think Dumbledore allowed her to have the Time-Turner so that she could learn to respect it.

    Why is it that Ron can beat Harry and Hermione at chess? I've always thought chess was a Mind exercise, but apparently not. It's not even about courage. Apparently, JKR thinks it's got more to do with faith.

    What do you think you don't understand, Vorona?

  5. #5
    Snape's Talon
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    Correct me if I'm wrong, Vorona, but I think what you meant by Harry-Snape-Voldemort was that they are essentially the same character-type, right? Like looking into a dark three-way mirror.

    All three have Muggle blood to some extent. Voldemort grew up seemingly discarded by his parents. His mother had the gall to drop dead right after birthing him. Harry grew up without parents, but his mother sacrificed herself for him. Snape had both parents, but it appears in his worst memory his mother wasn't strong enough to defend him against his father. (That is if you take his memory to mean there was borderline abuse of some sort going on in the household.)

    And as lovely as all the mind/body/spirit theory is, it's a bit over my head for the moment. Must be all that beta work taxing my brains. >.<


  6. #6
    Seventh Year Ravenclaw
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vorona
    I don't know that Voldemort is a body person, though. He seems more Mind or even Spirit to me. I think he has tremendous self-discipline, for example, and he's definitely a leader, and was so even more in his earlier days.
    I think what determines a person (or a character's) bent toward a particular type is what motivates them to action less than their actions. While Voldemort may be very clever and self-discplined, this does not derive from a desire of knowledge or betterment; it is arises from his craving for power. While he may be a strong leader, he does so through fear rather than inspiration, and he does this because he wishes to control others, not better society. Here is another way of looking at a character who is considered a "body" character:
    Quote Originally Posted by Introduction to Philosophy by Dr.Tom Kerns
    The appetites, which includes all our myriad desires for various pleasures, comforts, physical satisfactions, and bodily ease. There are so many of these appetites that Plato does not bother to enumerate them, but he does note that they can often be in conflict even with each other. This element of the soul is represented by the ugly black horse on the left.
    Voldemort is motivated by his own selfishness and even more so, his own fear. When you think about it, he is afraid of his own body: he is afraid of death, the most natural of bodily functions, and is driven to beat it through cruel and disfiguring ways. His fear of death drives his desire for control, which is what moves him to his terrible actions in the wizarding world.
    Quote Originally Posted by ThessalyRose
    I agree that it's not really an evolution from one kind of character to another. If that were so, then you'd see groups of spirit characters hanging around together as equals. But we don't have that; we have trios with one of each, where the trio isn't complete without all of its parts.
    Ah, but isn't the ulimate goal of most major religions the evolution of character? Whether the goal is to reach heaven or nirvana or some other such state, what that amounts to is evolving past the appetites of the body, past the rationality of the mind, and into oneness of spirit with the Universe.
    I realize that sounds a bit out there, but if we can do it, why not our characters? It is only for the purpose of maintaining balance within the immediate story that they are portrayed with more of one characteristic than another. I'd like to think that in the end, Ron and Hermione will have evolved past their weaknesses into a higher state.
    Interesting about Hermione and the Time room and Ron and the Brain room! I do wonder, though, what it means that Ron can beat them both at chess. Maybe it just means he's got potential.
    I don't think Voldemort-Snape-Harry is a valid trio, though, because they aren't trying to work together.
    This is true, but I still like how we have a spirit character - Harry, taking Dumbledore's place - battling a body character - Voldemort - with a mind character straddling the two: Snape. It actually balances out quite nicely, and I think this trio will play a larger role in the final book.
    Is Voldemort a mind character? I don't know. I'm more inclined to say that he isn't part of a trio. The point of having a trio is that balance is necessary for a healthy life, and Voldemort is the poster boy for being out of balance.
    Certainly Voldemort is unbalanced himself *suddenly envisions Voldermort tottering sideways down the street* but in terms of how he relates to the other character, I think things balance out quite nicely, whether you see it as Voldemort-Harry-Dumbledore or Harry-Snape-Voldemort or any other number of trios.

    The number three has always been an important number in mythology and religion. Joseph Campbell traces this back to the universal one-ness being divided into two. Two + One = Three. That probably didn't make sense so I'll just refer you to The Power of Myth. I don't think it's completely ridiculuous to see trios springing up throughout this story because our main trio clearly demonstrates the power of balance; it's only natural that others would show up to mirror or oppose that.

    All right, what else? I love this stuff.
    ~Gina
    PS. Glad you stopped by, Vorona! *waves at Sandy too*
    PPS. Sorry, Vorona!

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